I had an interesting conversation with a critic recently that was the impetus for this article. I do not mind talking to those who have differing or opposing positions as long as they can be expressed politely and professionally. It is not uncommon to find someone who is opposed to the idea that fluoroquinolones can cause harm but this conversation ultimately took a surprising turn.
The other day I received an email from a woman who asked that I give her a call to discuss fluoroquinolone (FQ) usage and toxicity. After calling her I ascertained that she had seen the PBS article, had seen the Facebook group and had read a few of the personal blogs. I was initially intentionally aloof until I was comfortable with the fact that she genuinely wanted to have someone hear her concerns and not just complain.
Our conversation progressed in a predictable fashion. She had been given a FQ in the last few years for an infection and knew many others who had taken FQ’s with apparently no problems. She said that according to her observations these reactions represent a very small amount of people compared to the total amount of prescriptions. I countered with how these reactions are grossly under reported and that in many cases the patient does not correlate the symptoms with the antibiotic and the symptoms are often blamed on other health conditions. She alluded, with a slight amount of animosity in her voice, to the fact that the sufferers are nothing more than a desperate group of individuals that are merely suffering from some sort of a mass hysteria. I told her that some sort of mass somatoform disorder is not possible due to the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of victims, spanning several decades, from all parts of the world, across every socioeconomic level, encompassing every age group from young to old, and most were in above average health.
She, like most of the general public, and a majority of the medical community, believed that once these drugs are out of your system their penchant for damage was done. I also informed her that these drugs are unique from all other antibiotics in their method of action and are too powerful for routine use. They behave like chemotherapy medications. I asked her if she ever heard of chemo brain. She vaguely remembered hearing about it. Chemo brain, described as mild cognitive impairment, affected those receiving chemotherapy treatments and would manifest itself some time after treatment and could last for a very long time. For years, patients had been aware of chemo brain but could not convince the medical community of its validity. The symptoms of chemo brain were attributed to other health conditions. Only recently, after years of attempting to convince the medical community, have studies been done that prove its existence.
Like, chemo brain, fluoroquinolone toxicity syndrome has the ability to manifest itself long after treatment. For years, patients have been aware of fluoroquinolone toxicity syndrome and have been trying convincing the medical community of its validity. Instead, through the woeful ignorance of the medical community, patients have been diagnosed with a myriad of other vague health conditions that have only become more prevalent in the last few decades incidentally coinciding with the entrance of FQ’s into society. Meanwhile most patients know in their hearts the real cause of their problems. I call this denial by the medical community “The Semmelweis Effect” which I wrote about in a previous article. The Semmelweis Effect takes place when a credible, articulate, intelligence patient presents a plausible mechanism for their medical problem, in the absence of any irrefutable diagnosis, and is dismissed by the medical establishment.
Near the conclusion of our conversation I had the feeling in my gut that I had conversed with this woman before. Not by phone but by written exchange over Facebook or some other social medium. I understood her ignorance; after all she was placing blind faith in our medical system. I too had misplaced my faith in the same medical system until I became a statistic. She, like so many other people including doctors, tell us that our reactions, like all drug reactions, are rare. But in truth, just how rare are adverse drug reactions?
The University of Toronto revealed that pharmaceutical drugs kill more people every year than are killed in traffic accidents. Their study is said to show that more than two million American hospitalized patients suffered a serious adverse drug reaction within the 12-month period of the study and, of these, over 100,000 died as a result. The researchers found that over 75 per cent of these ADRs were dose-dependent, which suggests they were due to the inherent toxicity of the drugs rather than to allergic reactions. These statistics are absolutely shocking and these are just the ones that have been tracked. Imagine how the number would change if we could account for all the adverse drug reactions that patients and doctors were unable to connect back to the source drug.
It just so happens that serious adverse drug reactions are not rare at all, we just choose to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the statistics which are there for all to see. We assume that things like this always happen to the “other guy” and never to us. Nearing the end of our conversation I think that she understood more about the plight of the fluoroquinolone community. I told her I was grateful that we were able to share such a civil conversation on the subject. Finally we engaged in some small talk discussing our health issues like so many people do. In an ironic twist, which could only have been designed by the hand of fate, she told me that within the last month she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. There was a long pause on the telephone, then she asked me “You don’t think…?” as her words stuck in her throat. I answered back “It sounds as though your connecting the dots.”